Another Rap on Rap Music
Music—it surrounds us in our everyday lives. We hear it in the car on the radio, in shopping malls on the public announcement system, and in our heads via the headphones of close proximity to our brains. One type of music that is highly criticized, highly politicized and very popular today is rap music. In November of 1991, David Samuels wrote an article for The New Republic about rap music entitled “The Rap on Rap: the ‘Black Music’ That Isn’t Either.” In the article, Samuels explained that the main consumers of rap music are white, suburban teenagers because rap is saturated with sex, violence, drugs and other aspects of crime, all of which are exotic to suburban whites and have no place in white society. Samuels also explores the history of rap music, from its insignificant beginnings called “toasting” in Jamaica, to the omnipresent hybrid form it has today due to the influences of white America (Samuels). “The Rap on Rap” is a fairly well written article and although Samuels believes that white consumers have imposed a high degree of influence on rap music, white consumers have only slightly affected rap music.
David Samuels’s article “The Rap on Rap” was in certain aspects well written; however, there are some areas that need some work. One reason that this article was well done is that author’s avoidance of logical fallacies, which are arguments using false, misleading or illogical reasoning. It is important for a writer, like Samuels, to steer clear from these and other fallacies because they detract from the value of his or her writing and the author can lose credibility. Samuels does not use fallacies in his article, which can only help his argument and his credibility as a writer.
A second way Samuels’s article was well written was his use of evidence and supporting facts to do just that—support his view on rap music. One of Samuels’s viewpoints is that rap appeals to whites because it is foreign, sexually charged and quite violent. He then goes on to cite specific lyrics that give backing to his opinion. One example of this is his views on violence in rap. Samuels says that violence is one reason why rap is popular, especially among suburban whites. He then quotes lyrics from N.W.A. and Ice Cube (after he left N.W.A.), like “A young nigger on the warpath and when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath of cops, dying in L.A.” (276) and “Point blank, on a Caucasian. Cock the hammer and crack a smile. . .” (277). He also supports his views of the increase of white influences on rap music with examples. Samuels states, “Rap’s new mass audience was in large part the brainchild of Rick Rubin, a Jewish punk rocker. . .who founded Def Jam Records. . .” (274) (Rubin is Jewish, not black). Also, Samuels mentions the hit television show “Yo! MTV Raps” and a magazine devoted to rap music called The Source, which was founded by an upper-middle-class white man, as further evidence of white influence.
David Samuels could have improved his article “The Rap on Rap” in two different areas. The first area that was not particularly good was the clarity of the author’s thesis. Samuels really never comes out and tells us, the readers, what his thesis is. Without a clear thesis, readers have trouble understanding the essay as a whole. As well as not understanding the verbiage and purpose of the essay, an unclear thesis questions the ability of an author to write in a convincing manner; and this, in effect, leads readers to question his or her knowledge on the subject and ultimately his or her credibility. Luckily for Samuels, the Common Culture editors clearly stated his thesis in a mini-prologue and prevented this sort of thing from happening.
A second way this article could be made better is to have Samuels at the very least mention, if not explain, the other side of the argument. Expressing the views of the opposing side shows the reader that the author is a logical, well-balanced and open-minded debater. There was no evidence in the article that shows otherwise; there was no clear-cut, textual proof of Samuels giving credit to the other side. The Common Culture book classifies this article in the “Index of Rhetorical Mode” not as an argumentative piece, but rather as an analytical piece, which it is. This categorizing proves that Samuels is just trying to shove his opinion down the reader’s throat, not to have an intellectually stimulating conversation about rap music.
In summary, David Samuels’s article “The Rap on Rap” was all right; it had both good and bad aspects to it. He avoided logical fallacies and supported his thoughts with real evidence, which were good for his essay; however, he was not clear about his thesis and did not discuss the viewpoints of his opponents, which were faults of his essay. Though the article was enjoyable, part of Samuels’s stance on rap music is wrong. He is right about why suburban whites enjoy rap music; however, white influences play only a minimal role in the progression of rap music.
White, suburban teenagers must like rap music a lot, especially since they are the genre’s largest consuming demographic of rap. They like rap because it is foreign to them. This foreignness can be broken up into four aspects, which are sex, violence and crime, drugs and rhythm and beat. Sex has always been a taboo in white, middle-class society. Many people believe that sex is a gift from God and should wait until marriage. Pimps, hoes and prostitutes are often looked down upon for their filthy and immoral actions. So, instead of breaking the middle-class marriage rule, rap listeners can listen about sex and get some sexual satisfaction out of the music without actually committing to the act. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song “Baby Got Back” talks exclusively about women’s buttocks and how sexually pleasing they are. Some of these lyrics include, “When a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung” and “My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon” (Lyrics Style). “Getting sprung” refers to male sexual arousal and “anaconda” refers to the male genitals. Violence and crime is another reason why whites love rap music. Some of the worst, most deadly and most gruesome murders, rapes, arsons and other violent crimes occur in urban, poor areas. In the 1990s, Minneapolis was renamed to “Murderapolis” due to the high number of homicides that occurred there. It is definitely more common to hear about violent crimes taking place in urban America rather than in the suburbs; therefore, violence is intriguing to suburban whites, so they buy rap music to curb their curiosities. Dr. Dre’s song “Forgot About Dre” featuring Eminem graphically describes acts of violence, like “Fuck you too bitch, call the cops! I’ma kill you and them loud ass motherfuckin’ barkin’ dogs” and “. . .me and Dre stood next to burnt down house. Wit a can full of gas and a hand full of matches. . .”(Lyrics Style). Drugs are another theme widely spoke about in rap music that is appealing to white listeners. Although drug use is increasing out in the suburbs, it all started in big cities and the epicenter of drug use in America remains in urban areas. Drug use and abuse is also a white social taboo. Substances like cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines are highly regarded as addicting, dangerous, unhealthy and even deadly. So, when rap music comes along with songs from N.W.A. that spoke of “trading oral sex for crack” (Samuels 276) and Dr. Dre, whose “Chronic: 2001” CD cover has a large picture of a marijuana leaf on it, white suburbans buy the records to become a dealer or user without coming in contact with drugs. Finally, the rhythm and beat is what sets rap apart from any other music genre and draws in buyers of all races, especially whites. Rap originated in Jamaica, a country where the majority of citizens are black. Rap then traveled to New York City and other places with high African-American populations. So, rap was birthed into and has matured in black culture, giving it a distinct flavor from any other music type. It is this freshness and uncommonality to white society that is so enthralling to whites. People all the time say that they listen to rap just for the beat.
Samuels is incorrect about the amount of influence white consumers have on rap music. Like movies and television, music is in a constant state of evolution; music progresses towards a more racy, unstable form as society becomes desensitized by its ever-increasing popular culture environment and as musicians, rappers included, have the need and desire to keep their current listening base and possible increase their listening base in the future. Take television for example. In the 1950 and ‘60s, TV shows like “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show” were popular hits; they were good, wholesome, family fun. Nowadays, few people watch these shows because they are so boring. Some of the topics on today’s shows, like sex, drug use, violence to name a few, would have never even been dreamed about being on TV in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The same goes for rap music. When rap first broke the scene in the late 1970s—early ‘80s, songs like “Rapper’s Delight” were all of the rage. Not once in the song do the rappers of Sugar Hill Gang curse, mention anything about drugs, sex or violence or make the listener cringe from hearing something terrible. Now look at rap today. In “In Da Club,” by 50 Cent, 50 Cent talks about possessing ecstasy (“Look mami I got the X if you into taking drugs”), having sex (“I’m into having sex”) and quite often then not he curses or says a derogatory name, like nigga (lyrics.astraweb.com). So why has rap music gotten so much worse compared to when it first began? Well, it is not because of white influence, but rather because society becomes desensitized to once suggestive and risqué subjects. In order to combat this and keep their fans, rappers must go to the next level so fans will want to come back for more and the rappers can make a living.
Whites do not influence the content and form of rap music, but they do dictate which rappers move to the top and become part of the elite group called “The Rich and Famous.” Because, as Soundscan pointed out, white, teenage males living in the suburbs are the largest socioeconomic group consuming rap music albums, they have the ability to make or break a rapper’s careers. Consumers hear different artists on the radio, on MTV or in other places and then make a decision of whether or not to purchase that artist’s album. If an artist is not popular among the white, suburban group, then he or she will most likely have a difficult time selling a vast number of albums and will therefore quickly drift out of the music scene because he or she cannot make a living off of meager record sales.
The David Samuels article, “The Rap on Rap,” was an article of mediocrity and his points were valid. He is correct about why whites like rap music, but incorrect with his statements that whites have an extraordinary amount of influence on the rap business. He claims that rap has become a hybrid of white and black culture when it may possibly be the rappers fault for the change in content and style. This rap music conundrum will probably never get solved. Only the rappers themselves know who or what influences them. So next time someone buys a rap album, he or she should think about his or her own rap on rap.
Cent, 50. “In Da Club.” lyrics.astraweb.com. 06 Apr. 2003. http://lyrics.astraweb.com:2000/t5d.cgi?50_Cent..get_rich_or_die_tryin..in_da_club.
Dre, Dr. and Eminem. “Forgot About Dre.” Lyrics Style. 08 Apr. 2003. http://www.lyricsstyle.com/e/drdre/forgotaboutdre.html.
Mix-A-Lot, Sir. “Baby Got Back.” Lyrics Style. 08 Apr. 2003. http://www.lyricsstyle.com/s/sirmixalot/babygotback.html.
Samuels, David. “The Rap on Rap.” Common Culture. Eds. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2001. 271-280.